Monday, October 24, 2011

FAMU’s freshmen, sophomores taking higher course loads than UF’s

Ammons has pulled FAMU back from the course load cliff

President James H. Ammons’ administration has reversed FAMU’s ten-year slump in lower division course load averages. Not only are course loads up, but FAMU’s lower division students (those with fewer than 60 credit hours) are now taking higher course loads than their peers at the University of Florida.

The increase in freshman and sophomore course loads at FAMU is important because it illustrates that the university is successfully addressing a key problem that prevents many of its students from graduating in a timely manner. FAMU’s housing shortage makes college very expensive for the student body. Most students come from families that make $30,000 or less per year. Students typically reduce their course loads as the cost of college goes up. That hurts the university's retention and graduation rates.

The average family income of UF freshmen is $105,000. It’s easy for most UF students to call their parents and get extra money for rent, car gas, and food when prices go up. The majority of FAMU students can’t do that. But under Ammons, FAMU has taken a number of important steps to reduce the cost of college for its students (which Rattler Nation will detail in tomorrow's lead story).

FAMU requires a minimum of 120 credit hours for a baccalaureate degree. Students need to take an average of 15 credit hours each fall and spring in order to meet that benchmark in four years.

The university’s freshmen and sophomores slipped down to a 13.5 fall course load average when Ammons arrived in 2007, the lowest number in 13 years. But since then it has gone up to 14.0 in Fall 2008, 14.0 in Fall 2009, and 13.9 in Fall 2010. If lower division course loads remain at that level, more students will graduate on time.

UF continues to stand at the head of pack in State University System of Florida (SUS) six-year graduation rates, with 84.5 percent in 2010. FAMU’s six-year graduation rate was 40.6 percent last year.

FAMU first surpassed UF’s lower division course load average in Fall 2008, after Ammons recruited and enrolled his first freshman class. The university continued to top UF’s lower division course load average in Fall 2009 and Fall 2010.

Currently, the only SUS institution that is beating FAMU’s lower division course load average is New College of Florida. It is a non-traditional liberal arts college that provides individualized written evaluations instead of letter grades.

Tomorrow: Rattler Nation takes a closer look at FAMU's strategy for boosting course loads, retention, and graduation rates.

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